Popularly called “Farmer in Suit,” his story tells how hard work, innovation, passion and determination can make one break away from the loop of poverty.
The story of Usman Ali Lawan, who also suffered from daunting challenges confronting most Nigerian youths, is an inspiration for others.
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Last week, our reporter visited Lawan’s farm on the outskirts of Keffi, Nasarawa State, and his story explained his journey so far.
After his first degree in Business Administration from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and a stint in oil and gas, Lawan used his savings to go for a master’s degree in Energy Studies in the United Kingdom (UK), with the hope that a job would be waiting for him whenever he returned home; but that did not happen.
“I was broke, broken, homeless and indebted. It was hard to look for a good job, so I started applying for every opening.
“Within the first six months after my return from the UK, I applied for 500 jobs in Nigeria. I crashed into every office, whether they had an opening or not, and whether they put out an advert or not. I asked people for help. I was looking for any job,” he said.
Within the period of joblessness, this grandson of a peasant farmer remembered that he could actually do something in agriculture.
“That was when I started making efforts and preparing myself to become a farmer.
“And I wanted to be a farmer that would be able to support other smallholder farmers to engage in sustainable and profitable farming.
“That was what informed the establishment of my farm, USAIFA Agro-Allied Limited, which started operations on April 3, 2013, with 350 birds,” he narrated.
Today, the farm’s capacity has grown from 350 birds to 28,000. On fishery, it has the capacity for 100,000 of 1.5kg fish, 45 tonnes of processed fish and 200,000 fingerlings monthly.
Facilities for goat farming, heliciculture (snails) and cuniculture (rabbits) are under construction.
The farm has modern meat and fish processing facilities, with substantial structures for offices, feed mills, meeting rooms, cold room and a warehouse.
The farm has developed a circle where the waste product of one process serves as an input for another. For instance, when the poultry and fish use feed, all the wastes from them are collected and used to make organic fertiliser.
“By this, we ensure that every waste product on the farm is used as input for another process to create an ecosystem where waste is reduced to the barest minimum,” Lawan explained.
Lawan also has another plan for the farm: “We are now not only a commercial farm but also an agri-business institute so that other young farmers will be able to have access, not only to see how a farm works but also learn and be able to have the knowledge they need.”
When asked the worth of the farm, he said, “We did evaluation recently and the business as a whole is valued at a little over N700million. The assets and the facilities are valued at N350m. Of course when you put the goodwill, our experience, brand, all the validation, and of course, our turnover in the last seven or eight years, plus the projected turnover in the next five years, then the business is valued at N750m.”
He further said, “Money is important in business, but I never actually saw it as a key driver because I knew from the beginning that if I put that in mind I would not be able to go far. That you think you need money to do everything and you don’t have it is a spirit killer. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, so you don’t want anything that will discourage you. You want to be able to keep moving. So I thought my snag for problem-solving was the most important factor and hinged on that. I tried to look at alternative means of getting money.”
Although he did not get funding from any bank, he was able to use other means like bootstrapping.
He explained, “Bootstrapping simply means using the resources you have to create something of value – whether it is getting invoice sales from suppliers or advance payment from customers. Those are some of the methods we use to be able to make sure our cash flow stays strong. And we are able to grow the business, but most importantly, leverage on fellowships and grant opportunities.”
In the next 10 years, Lawan wants to have a 10,000-hectare farm estate for growing maize, soybeans and groundnut, to prove to young people that they can actually make a living and decent income from farming. “You can wear a suit in a farm instead of the banking hall,” he said.